17 July 2020

Your Guide to Traveling Around Croatia with a Rental Car

Aleksandrs Buraks
Head of Growth at DiscoverCars.com

Why should you rent a car in Croatia?

Home to beautiful beaches, a relaxed atmosphere, and historic sites, Croatia has become the favorite travel destination of many foreign visitors. Picturesque Adriatic coastal towns like Pula, Šibenik, and Dubrovnik, as well as hundreds of scenic islands, draw the largest numbers of visitors, but the capital city of Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes National Park and the northeastern region of Slavonia can be just as fascinating to explore. Getting a rental car means you'll be able to explore everything that this country has to offer and make your own adventure as you go.

When should you go to Croatia?

The tourist season on Croatia's famous Adriatic coast generally lasts from May to mid-October. July and August get the largest amount of visitors and many popular beaches can get quite crowded during this time of year; these are also the warmest months, and temperatures often reach or exceed 35 °C (95 °F). Even during the winter months, the weather is fairly mild in Croatia's coastal areas, so if you're more interested in the history and architecture of Split and Dubrovnik, visiting in late autumn or early spring can actually be preferable as crowds will be much smaller and prices for accommodation and rental cars will be lower. Precipitation in Split is quite high throughout the year and although it as its lowest from June and August, even in the summer months the city gets considerably more rain than Mediterranean cities of Italy and Spain.

Located considerably inland, temperatures in the national capital, Zagreb, are usually a couple of degrees lower than the coast. Summers can still get very hot there, but if visiting during May, June, or September the weather will usually be very pleasant. Zagreb has, on average, 30 snowy days per year and it's not uncommon for temperatures to slip below 0 °C (32 °F) in winter, and although it can reduce the time you'll want to spend outdoors, the city admittedly does look very pretty when covered in snow.

Now that you've decided when to travel to Italy, check out our prices for the dates you have chosen!

Where should you pick up a car in Croatia?

Most visitors to Croatia prefer to pick up a rental car at the airport. There are nine international airports in Croatia connecting the country with destinations in Europe and beyond. The busiest airports in Croatia are Zagreb Airport, Split Airport, and Dubrovnik Airport. Many low-cost airlines, such as Eurowings, easyJet, Volotea, Vueling, and Wizz Air, fly to and from Croatia.

It is also possible to pick up and drop off a car at many other locations such as international hotels, car rental company offices, and train stations.

Many car rental companies in Croatia offer one-way rentals and it's quite popular for tourists to travel between Zagreb, Split, Pula, and Dubrovnik with a rental car, picking up the car in one location and dropping it off in another. Most rental companies charge a small fee for this service.

International one-way rentals are also possible depending on which neighboring country you would like to visit. Croatia is a member of the European Union and is expected to join the Schengen Area, but as of May 2020, it is not yet a Schengen member. This means that border checks are in place between Croatia and all of its neighboring countries. Out of Croatia's five neighbors, Slovenia and Hungary are members of the EU, but Montenegro, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina are not. You can check to which places one-way rentals are available by searching for your desired pick-up and drop-off locations and dates on our website. Depending on your citizenship, you might also need a visa to visit a country neighboring Croatia, so consult with your Ministry of Foreign Affairs in advance.

How easy is it to travel around Croatia independently?

Croatia is becoming increasingly easier to explore on your own. The country receives hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. From accommodation and rental cars to tours and experiences, there's a wide choice for everything that a traveler might need, and most things can be booked online nowadays.

The overall quality of the roads in Croatia is good. The main highways are in great shape and secondary roads are quickly catching up. It's important to keep in mind, though, that much of Croatia is mountainous, so some roads can be very narrow or steep. If you have no previous experience driving at higher altitudes, be extra cautious, especially after dark. Getting an up-to-date GPS device is a good idea as it can be handy both in the cities and in rural areas. It's possible to use an app, but you can also ask your rental car provider about the availability of a GPS for your vehicle. The road culture in Croatia is good and although local drivers are not shy to overtake or use a horn, driving in the country is usually a pleasant experience.

Croatia has more than 1,200 islands, and while many are small and uninhabited, some, like Krk, Korčula, and the Brijuni Archipelago, are popular tourist destinations. Most islands can be reached from the mainland by ferry. Some ferry companies allow renters to bring a rental car onboard, but others do not — you should find out in advance and also make sure that your rental car provider allows it. Some islands, like Silba and Unije, are pedestrian-only. In that case, you can park your rental car near the port and pick it up after returning to the mainland.

How safe is it to travel around Croatia by car?

Croatia is overall a very safe country. Police are trustworthy and violent crime is extremely rare. Tourism is one of the main industries in Croatia and the country cares a lot about the safety of its visitors.

Although not as often as in places like Rome or Paris, tourist scams and pickpocketing do occur, especially near popular tourist attractions in Split, Dubrovnik, and Zagreb. Keep your wits about you and make sure you always know where your belongings are. If you have been a victim of a crime or feel threatened, do not hesitate to call the police. The general emergency number in Croatia, like elsewhere in the EU, is 112.

Although the Balkan Wars of the 1990s are long gone, landmines still remain in some regions of Croatia. Do watch out for mine warning signs and do not go on impromptu hikes! If you're visiting a national park or another scenic area, ask the local authorities about the safety of hiking in the area.

What languages are spoken in Croatia?

The official and main language of Croatia is Croatian. A Slavic language, Croatian is mutually intelligible with Serbian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin (they are sometimes considered to be one language that is referred to as Serbo-Croatian). Croatian has some degree of mutual intelligibility with languages like Slovenian and Russian, but the differences are also quite pronounced. Learning at least some Croatian phrases is a sure way to make you popular among the locals.

Knowledge of English in Croatia is quite high in big cities like Zagreb and Split (especially among the younger generations) and in the popular tourist destinations but is considerably lower among the older generations and in rural areas. Not everyone you will meet will speak English, but usually, it's quite easy to find at least one English speaker nearby. English is spoken by many people working in the tourism and services sectors.

Italian is a co-official language in Istria County. Italian speakers have lived and co-existed with Croatians in Istria for centuries. A lot of Croatians in the rest of the country speak Italian as well. About a third of Croatia's population also understand German.

Three underrated travel destinations in Croatia that you can reach by car:

Slavonia. Due to Croatia's unusual shape, very few visitors get to experience the country's northeastern region of Slavonia — it seems simply too out of the way in relation to the country's beach hubs. That is a shame because Slavonia is a truly authentic part of the country with a lot to offer — you'll find traditional villages, architecture, and cuisine that have a lot in common with Central Europe, and the large and picturesque wetlands area of Kopački Rit. An off-the-beaten-path destination without the crowds you'll find elsewhere in the country, Slavonia is also closer than you probably think — the region's largest city, Osijek, is less than a three-hour drive from Zagreb and Papuk Nature Park is just a four-hour drive from the coastal city of Rijeka. Osijek also has an international airport.

Rijeka. Since we've mentioned Rijeka, this northwestern city also deserves a closer look. Although it is certainly known — it is, after all, the third-largest city in the country — most travelers bypass it for either the beaches of Istria or Dalmatia or the grandeur of Zagreb. Those who do stop here will find interesting architecture with Venetian influences, the impressive Maritime and Historical Museum, the Astronomical Center of Rijeka, and some of the most picturesque coastal drives in the country. Even the city's beaches, while not as famous as some others in Croatia, are really enjoyable. Rijeka is one of the European Capitals of Culture of 2020.

Risnjak National Park. Plitvice Lakes National Park is the most famous protected area in Croatia and most visitors to the country have probably at least heard about it. But did you know that there are seven other national parks in Croatia (plus a number of smaller "nature parks")? Our pick of the rest of the bunch is Risjnak, a fairly small, but supremely scenic protected area located on the country's border with Slovenia. Made up of white-and-green peaks, ancient caves, and mixed forests, it is also home to surprising diverse wildlife such as red deer, brown bear, chamois, and especially lynx — this wild feline, known in Croatian as ris, gives the park its name. Risnjak is a 45-minute drive from Rijeka, 90 minutes from Zagreb, two hours from Pula, and about 2 hours and 30 minutes from Zadar.

Aleksandrs Buraks

Head of Growth at DiscoverCars.com
Aleksandrs has over 10 years of experience in marketing with a focus on creating stellar content that provides topical insights using data. Having taken five road trips across Europe and one in the U.S., he is passionate about traveling by car. His favorite countries to visit are Denmark and Thailand. You can find him on Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter.

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